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11 Films from the Jana Cekara Film Festival

Updated: Nov 6, 2023

The Jana Cekara Film Festival is being hosted in Almaty, Kazakhstan this week! It aims to raise awareness about East Turkistan as a part of Central Asia, its identity, language, culture, and history, through film, analysis, and discussion.

Here are the 11 films being shown, and they are available to watch on their website: The films this year were selected after an open call period beginning June 2023.


1. Nikah

Director: Mukaddas Mijit 55 min | 2022

Review: Shahzad H.

On the surface, Nikah tells the story of an Uyghur woman who is in search of a suitable partner for her eventual marriage. Scattered throughout this story are various hints of an invasive Chinese government policy on Uyghur women regarding forcible marriage and prohibitive measures. Below the surface, we understand that life in Xinjiang as a woman is far from straightforward, as there are various sinister forces at play invading the personal and intimate aspects of marriage and relationships.

2. The Thirty Boys

Director: Mukaddas Mijit, Rachel Harris 66 min | 2021

This ethnographic film focuses on the Uyghur tradition of meshrep gatherings in Kazakhstan. Meshrep, although criminalised and propagandised by China, are convivial events involving eating, joking, music and dancing in Kazakhstan, which forge lasting bonds among groups of men called the Thirty Boys. We follow this group through the preparation and participation of a meshrep, its rituals, structure, and thoughts from its members. This film shows the potential for grassroots mobilisation of cultural heritage to provide a forum for negotiating tensions around identity and religion, a space for collective action, and a response to the pressing question: how can Uyghurs in the diaspora preserve their culture?

For more info about meshreps, watch our seminar series on Youtube.

3. A Letter Home

Director: Yadykar Ibraimov

10 min | 2021

Ramil and Yadykar travel to the border of West and East Turkistan to link them through audio messages. In the steppe, the traveler or nomad were often the only connection between people in the countryside and the wider world. In these times of wireless Internet, it seemed that there was no longer any need or place for such messengers – but that has been proven wrong. The film shows the journey to broadcast voices from people all over the world to the Uyghur homeland, in an act to show that borders have always been and will always be contingent.

4. Druzhba Narodov

Director: Intizor Otaniyozova

25 mins | 2023

On a beautiful spring day in Almaty, Uyghur women gather at a cafe for a friendly competition centered around preparing traditional Uyghur dishes. The objective is clear: to ensure the preservation of everything, from food and attire to dance, language, and song — all integral parts of their cultural heritage. The judges have the impossible task of rating the best of. We watch the event unfold through filmmaker Intizor Otaniyozova's lens, interspersed with her thoughts on Uyghur food, politics, place names, and her love for Murat Nasirov.

5. An Unanswered Telephone Call

Director: Aziz Isa Elkun

20 min | 2019

This film is based on the true story of an Uyghur man who has been living in London for more than 20 years. Since October 2016, Uyghurs in East Turkistan have been forbidden to make or receive phone calls from their relatives abroad. We journey through the lens of an exile in the UK attempting to contact his ailing parents in a rural region. It provides insights into the life experiences of his mother under the revolutionary campaigns of the mid-20th century, the frustrations of the exiled nationalist, and the struggles of his daughters who come from a place that no-one has heard of: “East Turkistan”.


1. All Static and Noise

Director: David Novack

100 min | 2023

Review: Shahzad H.

The film is told through the perspective of Jewher Ilham, Ilham Tohti’s daughter, who has dedicated her career to advocacy work and raising awareness of her father’s disappearance as well as the wider Uyghur community’s struggle to maintain the survival of their culture and rights. It features many prominent and brave Uyghur individuals, all of whom have suffered from CCP policy in one way or another and have now dedicated their professional and personal time to advocacy work in conventional and unique ways that hope to inspire grassroots and institutional change for the situation of Uyghurs in their homeland.

2. In Search of My Sister

Director: Jawad Mir

80 min | 2022

Review: Shahzad H.

This is a documentary that concerns the turbulent life of Rushan Abbas, whose journey in activism and search for her sister is documented in a powerful tale that seeks to unearth the reality of the situation in the Uyghur homeland. Beyond just the surface storyline of Rushan’s search for her disappeared sister, Gulshan, the documentary explores the ethnic genocide of the Uyghurs in a broader sense by delving into the use of concentration camps and detention centres by the CCP, as well as the policy of the US Congress concerning the use of forced labour.

Re-education Camps

1. Qazaqs from the Xinjiang Camps

Director: Duman Qazhet

35 min | 2023

Zhazira Assenkyzy is a Qazaq poet hailing from Zhemenei county in the Altai district. Her poetry and narratives were often featured in regional publications, some of which were also translated into Chinese. However, in 2017, she was arrested and sent to a political re-education camp. After her release a year and a half later, she left for Qazaqstan. Here she reflects on what she witnessed and her thoughts in the aftermath.

2. Testimonies of Xinjiang Camp Survivors

Directors: Zarina Mukanova, Rune Steenberg

25 mins | 2022

This is a short film that tells the stories of individuals who have endured the re-education camps, alongside their family members who survived mass detentions. It portrays and communicates the idea that oppression is a shared ordeal, offering insights from both personal and interpersonal perspectives. The healing journey and the wisdom derived from these narratives should be collectively embraced, encompassing not only the survivors but all of humanity.

3. A Song of Resistance

Director: Bazla Samin

20 min | 2022

A Song of Resistance weaves animation and narration together to depict the life story of Yerbaqyt Otarbay, a survivor who was forced to endure a re-education camp. The movie depicts his battle against the overwhelming emotional turmoil stemming from his separation from his family.

4. Dina

Directors: Yadykar Ibraimov, Jack Wolf

20 min | 2021

Dina Nurdybai, an ethnic Qazaq woman, found herself detained in a cultural re-education camp. The film delves into her personal journey, sharing her story of imprisonment, its impact on her life, and just what it means for someone to endure detention and Chinese "re-education", as documented by Yadykar Ibraimov and Jack Wolf.

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